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U.K. political parties targeted by large-scale pre-election cyberattacks

Both the U.K. Conservative and Labour parties were targets of large-scale cyberattacks on their digital platforms Tuesday just weeks before a national election.

Hackers used 'very unsophisticated' DDoS attacks to try take down target websites

The home page of the Labour party's website with its logo. The party has said hackers have mounted a 'sophisticated and large scale cyber attack' on their digital platforms on Tuesday. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Both the U.K. Conservative and Labour parties were targets of large-scale cyberattacks on their digital platforms Tuesday just weeks before a national election.

The attack on the Labour website began at around 1:30 p.m. local time and peaked about an hour later, the source said, just hours after the Labour Party announced it had repelled a similar attack on Monday evening, a Labour Party source said. 

The source said both attacks were "very unsophisticated" distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which try to take down target websites by flooding them with malicious traffic. 

Opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Tuesday that if this was a sign of things to come in the election, then he felt "very nervous about it all."

"A cyberattack against a political party in an election is suspicious and something one is very worried about," he said when asked by a reporter about the attack during a campaign event.

Corbyn said the party was looking into who might have been behind the attack.

A party spokesperson said ongoing security processes are in place to protect its online platforms following the hackers attempts to force its web services offline.

"We have ongoing security processes in place to protect our platforms, so users may be experiencing some differences. We are dealing with this quickly and efficiently," the spokesperson said in a statement.

The governing Conservative Party was hit by an attack on Tuesday which also tried to force its website offline.

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Tuesday that cyberattacks against a political party in an election is 'suspicious and something one is very worried about.' (Phil Noble/Reuters)

The attack began shortly before 2 p.m. and lasted for less than an hour without managing to take down any party websites, a sources said.

A Conservative Party spokeswoman had no immediate comment and said she was unaware of the attack.

One of the sources said the attackers appeared to be different from those responsible for two back-to-back attacks on the main opposition Labour Party on Monday and earlier on Tuesday.

Russian influence report

Meanwhile, Former U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton says she's "dumbfounded" that the U.K. government has failed to release a report on Russian influence in its politics before the country holds a national election next month.

The 2016 U.S. presidential candidate told media that the public needs to know what is in the report by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee before voters go to the polls on Dec. 12.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has said it needs more time to review the security implications of the report before it is released. Critics, however, allege the report is being withheld until after the election, because it is embarrassing to Johnson's Conservative Party, which is trying to win a majority and push through Johnson's Brexit plan to take the U.K. out of the European Union.

"I'm dumbfounded that this government won't release the report … because every person who votes in this country deserves to see that report before your election happens," Clinton told the BBC on Tuesday.

"There is no doubt... that Russia in particular is determined to try to shape the politics of Western democracies, not to our benefit but to theirs."

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the 2016 U.S. presidential election found that Russia interfered in the vote in a "sweeping and systemic" fashion. U.S. President Donald Trump, who won that vote, has dismissed the Mueller report's conclusions, but the investigation has put Russia into the crosshairs of a debate on the integrity of elections worldwide.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that she's "dumbfounded" that the U.K. government failed to release a report on Russian influence in its politics. (Simon Dawson/Reuters)

The Intelligence and Security Committee began its investigation following allegations of Russian interference both in the 2016 U.S. election and the referendum on the country's EU membership earlier that year.

The investigation began in November 2017, but the importance of the probe was highlighted in March 2018, when a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a chemical nerve agent in the cathedral city of Salisbury in southern England. The U.K. says Russian agents were behind the near-deadly poisonings, a charge that Russia denies.

The intelligence committee sent its report to Johnson for review on Oct. 17, saying it expected "to publish the report imminently." Committee chairman Dominic Grieve has criticized Johnson's government for failing to release the document amid media reports it has already been cleared by security services.

Among those who gave evidence to the committee was Bill Browder, founder of Hermitage Capital Management. Browder worked in Russia until 2005 and has campaigned for sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin's government since 2009, when his lawyer died in a Russian prison.

He said that by failing to release the Russian influence report, Johnson has made it worse for himself by implying there is something to hide.

"Nobody likes a coverup," Browder said.

Conservatives urged to release inquiry

Lawmakers from a range of parties, including Johnson's Conservatives, urged the government earlier this month to publish the report during a debate in the House of Commons.

Foreign Office minister Christopher Pincher argued it was "not unusual" for such reviews to "take some time," but others suggested the reasons are baldly political. The Sunday Times reported that nine Russian businesspeople who have donated money to the Conservatives are named in the report.

The Russian report comes amid increasing concerns about the security of an election fought in an increasingly digital world. The U.K.'s election laws are written more for a time when leaflets were pushed through mailboxes, not as Facebook and other social media giants publish political ads.

Following an 18-month investigation into online privacy and the use of social media to spread disinformation, an parliamentary committee in February urged the U.K. government to urgently approve new laws addressing internet campaign techniques, insisting that democracy itself was under threat.

While the government agreed with many of the recommendations made by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, it has done little other than circulate its own report for public comment. Former committee chairman Damian Collins said the government had planned to modernize its electoral laws at the latest by 2022, the original date for the next general election.

But Johnson called an early election in response to the political turmoil caused by the U.K.'s pending departure from the EU, which is scheduled for Jan. 31. So now the U.K.'s 46 million eligible voters will be choosing 650 lawmakers in the House of Commons in the Dec. 12 vote.

With files from The Associated Press

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